LA Observed Notes: Soon-Shiong era at LA Times begins

times-staff-toadts-duginski.jpgSaturday crew at the LA Times took to the roof to toast the sale of the paper by Tronc. Posted to Twitter by data journalist Paul Duginski.

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* Monday morning update: Soon-Shiong sends email note to Times staff

Soon-Shiong takes over the LA Times (finally)

pss-to-readers.jpgDr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the cancer researcher and former UCLA physician who is one of Los Angeles' richest men, on Monday will officially become the owner of the Los Angeles. He's been angling to bring the Times back under local ownership for some years now, and he says that newspapers have been in his blood since he was a delivery boy back in his native South Africa. The purchase includes Hoy and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

He's saying the right things about the role of journalism and building the Times back up into a healthy business and a strong news organization. "Fake news is the cancer of our times," he says, appearing to mean the big societal problem of people being misled by bots and disinformation, not the cynically dishonest "fake news" labels thrown around by Donald Trump to deflect true stories and confuse his followers. "We will continue our papers’ dedication to truth, integrity, journalistic independence, and storytelling that engages, informs, educates and inspires with care and compassion," Soon-Shiong says.

The Times led the Sunday paper with a story proclaiming the "historic" sale and a fun read by Joe Mozingo on the 130-year history of the Times, its origins as an Otis and Chandler family venture, its reinvention by scion Otis Chandler starting in the early 1960s, and its sad 18-year journey through a succession of bumbling owners based in Chicago. Inside, Soon-Shiong runs a full-page note to readers. Click to enlarge.

Soon-Shiong's Twitter feed is still recently dormant, but he did acknowledge congrats from Elon Musk.

Sighs of relief

Times staffers on social media and the newsroom guild seem optimistic about the new owner. Several staffers took a tour with Soon-Shiong of the new Times offices under construction in El Segundo and came back encouraged. They have heard pep talks before and some skepticism would be understandable. But for now there seems to be a lifting of the gloom around the old Times offices at 1st and Spring streets downtown, even though it's unknown who will actually run the place as publisher and for how long editor Jim Kirk, who was Tronc's man, will remain. The Sunday newsroom crew posted an upbeat photo to Twitter tonight.

Soon-Shiong has been consulting with top U.S. news people such as Dean Baquet, Marty Baron and Norm Pearlstine, and that's a good thing. He'll hear a lot of advice from Times followers and readers — and here's my small contribution: hire somebody good to fix the website, first, before anything. Make it usable, searchable and deep or else nothing else matters. Right now it's too easy to ignore the LA Times because too many people can't penetrate the balky tech and awful design. Start with how the Post and NYT serve up news online and go from there. Don't complicate it — simplify it. And quickly comply with the damn GDPR, like everybody else, and allow the LA Times to be read again in Europe.

USC Annenberg journalism professor Gabriel Kahn, the former Wall Street Journal bureau chief here, advises Soon-Shiong in an open letter to invest more in the long-suffering Times (despite way over-paying) and to ignore the buzzwords like "synergies" that have been nothing but trouble for the LAT so far. Also don't try to be a player in Washington, learn to ignore the sycophants who will be afraid to tell him no, and be independent of the forces that will try to co-opt the newspaper.

I hope that being a billionaire means you are giving the Times the gift of patience. Yes, there is urgency in figuring out how to make the business work, but change won’t happen overnight. You will have to try and fail again — and again — before the path is clear.

Being a billionaire means no-one ever tells you the truth. Every idea you have is “brilliant,” and every problem you encounter can be blamed on someone else. Please resist the billionaire’s inclination to surround yourself with sycophants, particularly when it comes to running a digital publishing business.


Dr. Soon-Shiong, our republic is under attack from forces both foreign and domestic. Our public institutions — the machinery of our democracy — are not as robust as we had imagined.

In the bleakness of these past two years, there has been one bright spot: journalism. It has uncovered crimes and infractions from our elected leaders and our largest corporations. It has shown the value of empathy when so much human behavior feels callous. It has been the check on power that our Founding Fathers envisioned.

Please don’t mess with that. Your healthcare companies have come under plenty of scrutiny from the press. Your response was to blame the messenger. Not a good look for someone who just spent half a billion on the Fourth Estate.

State clearly and unequivocally that you will not interfere in editorial issues. Make it clear that there is a complete separation between all the healthcare stuff and the journalism. (Your note to readers is a step in that direction.) Don’t have any executives work at both companies. And if a reporter at the Times digs into something at one of your hospitals or your companies, let her report it out in full. Don’t squash it. You’re playing the long game here.

Also, here is David Folkenflik's story on the sale closing for NPR.

Leaving Los Angeles


Before the Times packs up and leaves downtown LA for Soon-Shiong's building in El Segundo, now at the end of July apparently, there is A LOT of cleaning out and packing to do. Journalists tend to collect story notes, ignored mail from publicists and stacks of old newspapers on, under and around their work pods, and anywhere they can find a drawer. Reporter Sarah Parvini tweeted one discovery in her stuff tonight (above), and book editor Carolyn Kellogg tweeted about the other inhabitants of the old, leaky building.

The process of decamping from downtown has also spurred a lot of interest in tours of the 1930s building from the public and from Times alumni. Those tours are being led by Darrell Kunitomi, the last man standing in what was once a large public affairs unit at the Times headquarters. Kunitomi, also an actor with credits on "Seinfeld," "Married With Children" and elsewhere, was the subject of a nice LA Taco feature by Daniel Hernandez last week. "Kunitomi, now 65, says he sees his job as a something of a public service, especially these days.... 'I’m just going to continue to take every visitor who wants to come, and there has been a definite uptick in requests,' Kunitomi tells me. 'Including retirees, and old employees from other states, people who live very far away.'"

KUNITOMI-TOUR-DH.jpgPhoto: Daniel Hernandez/LA Taco

The historians among us will be watching to see what happens to what remains of the official Times archives. Decades ago, the paper placed a large selection of its print photographs at the UCLA Library, where some of the photos are online. For the last two decades or so, photos that ran in the paper have only been kept online, so they (hopefully) should be safe. Corporate documents from the Times-Mirror era and the papers of some past editors are housed at the Huntington Library. The news archive from the 1880s forward is mostly, but not fully, available online from Proquest. Here's hoping that nothing irreplaceable is tossed out in the move.

Also in the Times this weekend

Reporter Esmeralda Burmudez had the talker of the weekend with a first-person piece about raising her daughter to speak three languages at home — Spanish, Armenian and English — and being confronted by a stranger who demanded she speak only English to her daughter.

David Zahniser's piece on a really screwed up Department of Building and Safety at LA City Hall.

SoCal freelancer Vince Beiser has a piece adapted from his new book about concrete on the LAT op-ed page and it's worth knowing what he says.

KCRW updates the lineup a bit

tanzina-vega.jpgStarting on Monday, KCRW-FM is adding the popular New York Times news podcast "The Daily" to its weekday on-air schedule. The show hosted by the NYT's Michael Barbaro has already been airing on KPCC for some months. It will now also air on KCRW at 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Also new to the KCRW schedule: "The Takeaway" from WNYC and PRI, hosted by Tanzina Vega (pictured). It will air from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays. "The Takeaway offers national news and cultural coverage, with a strong new voice and an emphasis on audience engagement and in-the-field storytelling," the station says.

Sliding "The Takeaway" into the noon slot pushes Madeleine Brand's hour-long "Press Play" into a new time slot: 1-2 p.m. (repeated at 7 p.m.) "Marketplace" will push back to the 4 p.m. slot, and NPR's afternoon news program "All Things Considered," which used to come on at 3 p.m., will now not air on KCRW until 4:30 p.m.

The local half-hour shows produced at KCRW — "The Business," "Bookworm," "DNA" and "The Treatment" — will now rotate through the 2 p.m. slot. Finally, "The World" will now air at 3 p.m. and yield the slot on Fridays to "Left, Right and Center."

Here's the new schedule. KCRW is also making ready to move into its new off-campus studio and offices in Santa Monica. Some staffers have already made the move; the broadcast facility will be among the last to move later this year.

Garcetti road show continues

In case you missed it, the campaign to introduce Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to the nation — and possibly its voters, especially the Democrats — took him to the desk of Trevor Noah at "The Daily Show." He made a joke about Canada as the enemy of the U.S., struck at other incompetencies of the Trump-in-chief, and got some applause. Watch.

Media notes

Well, the president again told his followers by tweet that the American news media is the "enemy of the people." If Trump wasn't the president, and just some ranting old coot calling in to talk radio somewhere, you'd laugh and shake your head. Does he even know he sounds like a 1950s communist despot? But he is the president, and at least some of his less informed supporters believe him when he says even monumentally stupid and dishonest things like this. Trump sounds increasingly desperate to brainwash his followers into disbelieving anything true about him, ahead of the Mueller report and any more criminal indictments of his inner circle. The voters will decide how much they care, but figuring out how to cover a president's basic un-Americanness — attacks on freedom of the press, loyalty to dictators over democratic allies, secret dealings with murky Russians, embracing racism against American citizens, flouting of U.S. laws, outright and almost daily dishonesty to the nation — is a challenge that most American journalists have never faced. May be the journalistic challenge of our times.

Washington Post analysis: Why untrue tweets from Trump shouldn’t be unchallenged in headlines

Post media critic Margaret Sullivan: Instead of Trump’s propaganda, how about a nice ‘truth sandwich’?

Jacob Soboroff of the NBC bureau here has reporting from the child detention centers in Texas, including inside.

Media people: NBC's Katy Tur gave a commencement address this weekend at UC Santa Barbara, her alma mater, then stopped to speak with student journalists at the Daily Nexus.... White House reporters Ashley Parker (Washington Post) and Michael Bender (Wall Street Journal) were married Saturday in Washington. NYT item... Marc Duvoisin, one of the managing editors fired in last year's purge-by-Tronc at the Los Angeles Times, has reemerged as editor and vice president of the San Antonio Express-News in Texas... Vernon Loeb, the former investigations editor at the LA Times, was hired by The Atlantic as politics editor in charge of an expanding staff... Robert J. Lopez op-ed on the closing of the First Baptist Church in Venice, a symbol of the community's shrinking black population... Joe Mathews writes his final preschool check and considers "California's unfulfilled promise of universal preschool"... Reporter Dave Lopez marked 41 years with the CBS LA stations, dating back to KNXT... BuzzFeed's Ken Bensinger gets a thumbs up on his new book about the FIFA scandal from champion U.S. goaltender Hope Solo.

Some Angeleno journalists and writers had guest pieces in a series on cities in The Atlantic: Carolina Miranda on how automation changes architecture, Susannah Breslin on tech and porn in the Valley, Annette M. Kim on how computer analysis of orbital images can overlook some urban communities and Geoff Manaugh on LA's aerospace future and on the LA sheriff's drone,

NBC 4 apologized for airing a high-speed chase suspect's suicide on the air.

Final note: The media need to start getting this right. The initiative measure on the November ballot would not split California into three states. Only Congress can do that, and even then it's hard to the point of being almost impossible. Yes, California voters can give their opinion, and start the process. They (or we) do not have the power to alter the number of existing states, united or otherwise.

What subway art could look like

Metro likes to boast about the local artists whose work adds some cultural flavor to transit stops here. In Stockholm, they take the public art mandate a bit more seriously. The Guardian gives a tour.


Selected tweets

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